Highlighting Connecticut’s Maritime Geography, History, and Future

The Thames River in New London, CT, looking toward Groton, CT (Wikimedia Commons)
The Thames River in New London, CT, looking toward Groton, CT (Wikimedia Commons)

Connecticut has nearly 100 miles of coastline and is traversed by several rivers. The state’s name even comes from the Algonquin word for “long tidal river.”

Maritime ecosystems play an essential role in Connecticut’s geography, economy, culture, and history. University of Connecticut associate professor of geography Nathaniel Trumbull, associate professor of agricultural and resource economics Syma Ebbin, associate professor of history Helen Rozwadowski, and associate professor of English Mary K. Bercaw Edwards will look to highlight the importance of some of Connecticut’s maritime sites with the creation of a Blue Heritage Trail.

This $40,000 project funded by the Department of the Interior and the University of Connecticut’s Office of Public Engagement will create a maritime heritage trail that runs through southeast Connecticut, focusing on the Thames River Heritage Park.

“This funded project came out of a critical seed grant from the UConn Office of Public Engagement more than a year ago,” Trumbull says. “Without that seed grant, we would not have had the matching funding to apply for this larger National Park Service grant.”

The trail will lead visitors through a variety of cultural and historical locations including military and battle sites of the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and both World Wars. The informational panels to be installed at these sites will provide an enriched educational experience for visitors. People will be able to read about the events that took place decades or even centuries ago and imagine scenes of armies advancing, bayonets in hand, and cannon balls hailing down onto the very spot where they stand.

The trail will detail the geographic assets that have been critical to Connecticut’s economic development. The harbors, bays, and coastlines that rim the state have afforded Connecticut profitable fishing and industrial opportunities. Connecticut fishers harvest many varieties of fish and shellfish and others engage in a burgeoning aquaculture industry, growing several species of shellfish and seaweeds. Groton, known as the “Submarine Capital of the World,” is home to General Dynamics Electric Boat facility, which is responsible for building many of the country’s submarines.

The trail will help educate visitors on the current and historical usage of the plant and animal life within these marine ecosystems as well. The U.N. Food & Agriculture Organization reported in 2016 that nearly 90 percent of global fish stocks are fully fished or overfished, posing a clear danger to the sustainability of the industry and the marine populations and ecosystems that contribute vitally to fisheries. The informational panels posted along the trail will highlight research studying various fisheries, shellfish activities, and aquaculture operations to create more sustainable futures.

Visitors will be able to use the IZI Travel app on their smartphones or tablets or scan QR codes off the panels and learn more about the sites.

Trumbull and his colleagues hope this project will help people develop a more complete understanding and appreciation for the significant role maritime sites and activities have played, and continue to play, in the history and development of the nation as well as the state of Connecticut through this interactive, informal educational experience.

“Developing this Connecticut Blue Trail has been a great opportunity to engage with other maritime partners and learn how we can best serve this community,” Ebbin says. “Our partnership with the Thames River Heritage Park has been especially critical in allowing us to implement our ideas in concert with existing regional efforts. We’re all looking forward to seeing what we’re able to produce.”

This grant is part of the DOI National Maritime Heritage Grants Program. No. P17AP00445

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